The return of the sequester monster

posted at 6:31 pm on July 14, 2013 by Jazz Shaw

I bet you thought the sequester story was pretty much dead and gone, didn’t you? Given what a dud the reality of it turned out to be, that’s understandable. But not everyone is done chewing that particular bone, including Chuck Hagel. I noticed this weekend that Dr. Joyner was covering an article from military.com by Tom Philpott with the ominous title of, Freeze Possible On All Promotions, Recruiting.

Failure by Congress to end budget sequestration could force the services in fiscal 2014 to freeze military promotions, suspend recruiting and halt all change-of-station moves, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned in letter Wednesday to leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Automatic budget cuts already are “severely damaging military readiness,” Hagel wrote to Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), committee chairman, and Sen. Jim Inhofe (Okla.), ranking Republican. Without relief, defense spending will take another $52 billion hit in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

If Congress lets that happen, by continuing to refuse to compromise on a debt reduction deal, the Department of Defense will keep a civilian hiring freeze in place, continue to neglect facilities maintenance, deepen cuts to weapon programs and impose “an extremely severe package of military personnel actions including halting all accessions, ending all permanent change-of-station moves, stopping discretionary bonuses and freezing all promotions,” Hagel wrote to introduce a budget “contingency plan.”

Joyner titled his piece including the phrase, “Draconian Personnel Moves” but seems to feel that some of these threats carry more weight than others.

While some of this is standard bureaucratic scare tactics—highlighting programs most visible to the public and to Members—most of it’s legitimate. There are tremendous savings to be had in defense, whether from shuttering unneeded bases, streamlining acquisitions, or even cutting the force to pre-9/11 levels now that the war in Iraq is over and the one in Afghanistan is winding to a close.

The problem, as noted toward the end of the excerpt, is that many of those savings are actually cost money in the short term. Sequestration penalizes prudent fiscal choices because it demands immediate savings.

He certainly has a point there. Some of the cutting measures in the military may not begin showing real budget savings for several years and could potentially cost more in the short term. But they will pay off in the long run, assuming that the military is still effective. It’s the personnel cuts that will get the big headlines, though, and that’s probably what Hagel is betting on in terms of a PR campaign. Cutting recruitment and retention will shrink the roles, but refusing to offer any promotions will take some of the most experienced warriors and technical specialists – the ones we really need to keep – and drive them out the door out of frustration when their current enlistment ends.

This is some hardball gamesmanship here by Hagel, particularly given that Republicans who let the cuts go through will then be accused of “not taking care of the troops.” That’s a tough label to have hung on you coming into another election cycle. But I think most competent observers understand that there are savings to be had in the military budget as well as inside the beltway, so we may just have to push forward and swallow that pill.


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